- 1933 - 1968
When I was a girl in Grade School, my parents allowed me to take the bus and streetcar, by myself, down to the Museum every Sunday afternoon. I guess the world seemed a safer place in those days. My first visit had been with my Brownie troop, little girls marching up and down the grand stairway, past all the exhibits, silent and obedient, never straying from the file. What were all those things we’d passed but not really seen? I needed to know.
At eleven, I was old enough to travel on my own. I’d come after church, in my nice Sunday dress and my shiny Sunday shoes, with my 25 cent a week allowance in my purse along with a pencil, some paper, and a nice hankie. All the galleries were mysterious and magical. I didn’t know about maps, so I got lost just about every week. The place seemed infinite as I walked and walked and walked to find my way. There were days when my pretty shoes caused blisters on my ankles. Since I didn’t want to give up any of my time at the Museum, I just kept on walking until my feet bled.
About 4 p.m. I’d hobble to a stairwell in the North-West corner of the building. There was a water-fountain back there. If no one else was in the stairwell, I’d take off my shoes and socks and wash out my bloody socks. Then I’d put the socks back on and walk up and down the cold marble stairs until I could bear to get back into my shoes. Then I’d walk some more until the guards told me it was closing time.
What did I learn from all that walking and looking? There was nothing systematic in my explorations. The Roman galleries had drawers and drawers of little clay lamps to pull out and look at. The big wall paintings were portals to other worlds; the Ice Age made me shiver even in summer. Live lizards in the dinosaur gallery were a little smelly, but I told myself we scientists had to get used to such things. Queen Elizabeth’s lovely Canadian Maple Leaf dress made me realize I was too tall to be a princess. Rooms of furniture made the past a place you could live in. Sometimes, not very often, I’d go to a back corner on the bottom floor, past all the Paul Kanes and the African masks and dioramas of Native people going about their wonderful business, to peek at the shrunken head of a man who’d once lived in South America. Some days he was scary, some days just sad.
I kept being drawn to Egypt. I’d copy hieroglyphs and try to find names or I’d study a single case and draw the artifacts in it. The mummies scared me until one day I saw a five by three card on a glass case. I went over and read that the body inside was a man named Antjau. I said a prayer for him, and we’ve been good friends ever since. Knowing his name somehow made it all right to look at him, and to study his coffin. Soon, I got to know the other mummies, too. Eventually, I learned their language and visited their country. I’ve been studying Ancient Egypt now for well over fifty years.
In the early years, I never dreamed I’d get to work here and spend my days with the mummies and the dinosaurs and all the puzzling, peculiar, astonishing Ancient Stuff. The building is still full of wonder and mystery; I’m still walking, looking, and learning. Antjau and I are still friends.